Coconut Grove used to be one of the most attractive town in South Florida. But since its annexation by the City of Miami almost a century ago, it has become a mix of restrictive wealthy neighborhoods populated by families under the Witness Protection Program and poor Bahamian quarters known for high crime rates.
Many Grovites see the problem coming from Miami's poor administration and high levels of corruption. So they have tried to secede from the City, and ended up with a compromise: the Coconut Grove Village Council.
The Council is made up of nine individuals, all elected alongside the Mayor of Miami every four years. According to its by-laws, it is supposed to work with other neighborhood groups to lobby for the Grove in front of the Miami City Commission. And working with the All-Grove Crime Watch and the local Business Improvement District, there is great potential at creating a more autonomous part of town. Sadly, the Council, mainly financed by the District Commissioner's Office, has been nothing more than a big failure.
On November 5, voters will choose between 13 candidates to set a new Village Council. The Council's website has provided a small biography of each candidate to help voters make up their minds.
Emily Brittingham has lived in Coconut Grove for only three years. But she says she fell in love with the "city" and is running to maintain its charm.
Incumbent Kate Callahan is the only current council member running for re-election. She is known for having tried to unseat district commissioner Marc Sarnoff, one of the most corrupt members of the Miami government. If re-elected, Callahan wants to accomplish a few projects, such as helping small businesses in Central Grove, clean up parks, and remove the Trolley Garage off of West Grove.
Steven Dloogoff is a small business owner from Nebraska. He fits all the stereotypes of the average "neighborhood man", managing a small chain of retail stores, being an active member of Temple Emanuel of Miami, and presiding his homeowners' association. Dloogoff says his experience will help him with his work as a council member.
Louise Caro is an attorney of the Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik LLC law firm and a member of the Dade Bar Association.
Ruth Ewing is a lifelong West Grove resident that takes pride in being a Grovite with history in this town. She claims to understand economics, but believes that there is more to our future than just money, which is pretty confusing in this context. Ewing wants a future of Coconut Grove that brings back its cultural heritage.
Raymond August Fort is another lifelong resident of Coconut Grove that studied city panning at Columbia. His main concern is the lack of walkable infrastructure in the neighborhood, which is really not something that the Village Council has any power over.
Gabriel Iglesias is probably the only candidate taking this race seriously. He has the only functioning website -that probably cost him a few hundred dollars- and has received the endorsements of a Key Biscayne council member and Jessica Lewis, current chairwoman of the Coconut Grove Village Council. His run is an "investment in a stronger and safer future for his family".
Linda D. William is a legendary secretary and community volunteer, having worked for many businesses and churches. William says her passion is creative writing and wants, as a councilwoman, to help small businesses uplift her the community.
Javier Gonzalez is a Grove resident since 1965 and 2013 is not his first run for a council seat. He claims to be "Grovey" with an "Ivegotaguyforthat" attitude.
Seth Sklarey is a former Grove councilman with a long history of local activism. As part of a local environmental group, he has planted over 1,000 trees across Coconut Grove and has been active in crime watch activities. On top of that, Sklarey represents the village at the Miami-Dade branch of the AFL-CIO union giant.
Thaddeus Scott is a property manager that has lived almost all his life in the village. He also takes pride at being a Grovite, and wants to keep the work of the current council in fighting for a better future for Coconut Grove.
Tricia Sullivan is a self-proclaimed community activist, having formed a neighborhood crime watch in her block. She is a big animal lover, supporting the Pets' Trust and the Kennedy Dog Park. She also claims to be very efficient in talking to government officials, which could bring some experience on the dais.
These 13 candidates all seem great, but at the end of the day, they are all missing one key feature. None of them wants to see the Grove secede from the City of Miami, even though this would be a very popular message in the village. Yes, having a council fighting for secession might cost it its rare funds, but isn't taking over the village's problems more important than having enough money to subsidize portable toilets on Halloween? All the candidates have been very vocal to present their plans, but without autonomy, no plan will ever be materialized.
Kate Callahan and Seth Sklarey should not be elected again at the Village Council for they had the opportunity to bring autonomy but blew it on purpose. They had their chance. They should remain community activists and leave the council to real game changers.
Louise Caro, on the other hand, is running a race she does not deserve. Even though she is a partner at a wealthy South Florida law firm, Caro did not even have the time to send a biography to the Village Council, which shows her priorities are nowhere near the Grove.
This is why the Miami-Dade Libertarian Examiner is endorsing these nine candidates for the Coconut Grove Village Council:
- Emily Brittingham
- Steven Dloogoff
- Ruth Ewing
- Raymond August Fort
- Javier Gonzalez
- Gabriel Iglesias
- Thaddeus Scott
- Tricia Sullivan
- Linda D. Williams